Van Buren goalkeeper Chris Mendoza ready to bring home boys state soccer title

George "Clay" Mitchell
Press Argus-Courier

Senior goalkeeper Chris Mendoza is ready to bring a state title home to Van Buren.

The Pointers, who won the state soccer title in 2006, face Russellville at Benton High School for the 5A crown Saturday at noon.

"I feel good about the team," Mendoza said. "We've come a long way from the start of the season. There were a lot of expectations for us dropping down from 6A to 5A. I think we met them well by winning conference two weeks ago. We are where we should be."

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Van Buren outscored its opponents 15-0 in three games at the state tournament so far. No other team has scored more than 10, and Mendoza's clean sheet streak has led the Pointers as the only team to shutout each opponent.

"I think we are pretty strong on defense," Mendoza said. "(The defense and I) have been playing together since we were freshmen. We've got a sense of how the others play, and I think that helps us out a lot. We've all grown together, and we've gotten a lot better."

After last week's win, midfielder Jose Zarate said that Mendoza, who recently signed with Central Baptist College, is the best goalkeeper he's played with. Coach Nathan Almond and others have also expressed confidence in Mendoza, and that confidence goes both ways.

"I play a lot of soccer with these guys in adult leagues outside of school," Mendoza said. "That has helped our chemistry out as a team. So when we make a mistake, we'll be okay. We can recover from it and do even better next time."

The Cyclones have handed Van Buren its only two losses of the season, with the first being 1-0 and the second being 3-1.

Mendoza said each of those goals resulted from mistakes.

"We've talked about it, and we've watched the films, so we know what the mistakes are," Mendoza said. "I feel really good about playing Russellville again. It'll be tough on Saturday, but I think we'll have control of the game and not make the same mistakes."

The team had Monday off to refresh themselves, but the plan before heading to Benton on Friday was to work on some things to deal with Russellville's counterattack that has deemed costly for the Pointers.

"I kind of worry about (the defense) sometimes that they may look a little too relaxed or bored," Almond said. "But they know what they're supposed to do, and they do it. I think that one of the best things about this team is that any of the 10 guys out there can start at midfield for another team, which is a big plus for us."